Saturday, March 8, 2014

#44 - Bartholomew Before the Council, part 1 - The Story

Bartholomew decides to ask the city council to keep his garden, even though he hadn't asked permission to have it on city property.  It is the events of this council session that is covered in Bartholomew Before the Council, parts 1 & 2.     I greatly enjoyed writing this story because I have been to many city council meetings for my day job.  I have had to write resolutions and have them approved by the council.  Most of these were to accept donations of funds for programs.  None of my resolutions were contentious items, although an upcoming one by the Food and Nutrition Commission, of which I am involved, will probably have some lively discussion.

Yes, it's true. I write about my real life experiences, sort of.  No, I am not Bartholomew.  No, I have not tried to save a garden of mine that the city wants to destroy.  But I am involved in community gardens and the local food movement.

The Book of Bartholomew is a series of stories about making decisions.  In this story, I wanted to show that there is a way to fight for what you want - even against the city you live in.  And there is a way to reach out and work with others for what you want - even with the city you live in.  I have a good friend who thinks government is worthless.  My opinion is that government is not worthless.  There are reasons for laws and procedures.  But when an entity, like a government, has been around for a long time, it doesn't adjust to change at the same speed as individuals or even society.  Of course, in these stories, I deal with these issues in a humorous manner.  But I would like people to know, there is a way in this society to address your grievances.  Sometimes it is hard work and you might run into someone who is not very bright or thinking in a new contemporary way.  But there is always a way to find common ground and get to a place that works for most everyone.  Be patient,... and be persistent.

Here is an excerpt from Bartholomew Before the Council, part 1:     

Bartholomew had never been to the city council chambers before. He had never even been to City Hall. But here he was, about to defend his community garden to the council and ask them to create city food policy, which would include allowing community gardens. The elevator ride with Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey seemed to take forever even though it was for only five floors. The doors slid open and all Bartholomew could see were bodies. People had gathered outside the council chamber before the doors were opened. The crowd was backed up all the way to the elevators. Bartholomew had no idea this many people normally attended council sessions.

“Bartholomew!” yelled a voice that sounded like Claire. He saw a young woman with dyed-red hair waving at him. It was Claire, but she was sporting a short haircut in a bright color. He hardly recognized her.

“Hey, Claire,” waved Bartholomew, working his way through the crowd toward her with Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey in tow.

“Your hair looks great!” said Bartholomew as Aunt Josephine's eyes widened. Claire sensed that Aunt Josephine did not approve.

“Thanks,” replied Claire, happy that Bartholomew liked it. “Can you believe all these people? Most of them are here to support urban food policy. I just couldn't imagine that so many people are interested! But look at this,...” she said as she put her hands in the air and scanned the hallway.

“Wow. Really? They're all here for food policy? Wow,” said Uncle Jeffrey astonished.

Charlotte and Topping soon appeared out of nowhere. “Hey, Superstar,” said Charlotte. Bartholomew blushed. They both gave him a hug.

“Claire, setting up the Food SLAM was genius!” exclaimed Topping. “I can't believe this mob.”

Suddenly, the crowd moved en masse as the doors to the chamber opened. None of them had much choice, they were being swept into the chamber whether they wanted to be or not. Bartholomew was scared for a moment that somebody might get trampled.

The council chamber was an impressive space-- an ornate room with wood paneled walls and murals throughout. The murals depicted moments in the history of the city. One wall was the founding of the city. A second wall showed the history of industry, from sawmills to riverboats to airports. A third was covered with “the People:” butchers, bakers, mothers and children, streetcar workers, blacks, Native Americans, whites, Latinos and there were even dogs, cats, horses, eagles and squirrels. Every possible person seemed to be included. The last wall was a bit unique. Instead of the typical WPA mural type of painting promoting the archetypal aspects of the community, this wall was a simple depiction of an average house in the city. It was a life-size white wood sided house with a front porch. On the porch was a family with food on a table. Instead of eating the food, the family members were all sitting and facing the council chambers listening to the conversation, passing judgment on the laws created and wondering how those laws might affect them. Most unsettling was the little girl whose eyes were painted a bit too large, giving her a creepy look instead of someone rapt with attention.

The council members filed in and set about arranging their papers and conversing pleasantly with each other. Without any warning, the meeting began with a role call by the council clerk. The council made their way through what seemed like rather mundane and simple matters, voting on blocks of items instead of individual ones.

Bartholomew scanned the chambers and recognized a few people from the Food SLAM, but mostly the place was full of people he did not know. He shifted in his seat, not sure what to expect. The council did not seem as intimidating as he thought it would be. They seemed like regular people making decisions about things. Surely, they would see the benefit of what he was proposing.

Then the proceedings changed as individual items were now being discussed. The first item was a proposed new playground at a local park. Apparently, the equipment had become old, rusty and dangerous. At least that was what the people from that neighborhood believed. They stood at a podium before the council and shared their thoughts and concerns. They each called the council members by the title Councilmember. So, Albert Josten, Bartholomew's council representative, was called Councilmember Josten. It seemed odd to Bartholomew and he mentioned this to Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine.

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